Thursday, November 12, 2015

InterPlay at Clarkston, Georgia, Ellis Island of the South: Screening of ELLIS and Panel Discussion

Written by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader
On the second Tuesday night in November, InterPlay Atlanta was asked to join the  gathering at the Clarkston Community Center (CCC) to provide an experiential way to delve into the stories of being an immigrant in the past and now after the screening of the movie, ELLIS.

After arriving from traffic-filled metro-Atlanta roads to get to the CCC, those attending relaxed and chatted around a table of satisfying finger food and drink. I was pleased to meet various people from different nonprofit organizations that serve refugees and established communities that receive these new arrivals from different places in the world like Bhutan, Nepal, Somali, and Iraq.  

McKenzie Wren, CCC Director, welcomes everyone.
McKenzie Wren, CCC director, welcomed everyone and gave an introduction to the 15-minute film “ELLIS,” an artful film set in the abandoned Ellis hospital complex. Giving power to the stories of those who travelled through the Ellis facilities written by Academy Award winner Eric Roth, were the images in the art installation by the artist JR, who also directed the film. Adding even more star power to this film about people seeking refuge from persecution and poverty, was Robert DeNiro who starred in it.

Here is the trailer to ELLIS:

ELLIS - trailer from SOCIAL ANIMALS on Vimeo.

A “tie-in” to the InterPlay form, “Walking, Stopping, Running” were unnerving words at the conclusion of the film that advised new arrivals to the shores of the United States to walk, walk faster, and to run as they endeavored to make a new home for themselves. Did the words suggest fleeing, exhausting work, seeking help, finding eventual success and comfort?

InterPlay’s “Walking, Stopping, Running” allows a group of people to make choices in the presence of those participating to remain still to rest and witness others moving, walk at a speed they desire, or run. Participants discover on their own that they can join others in either stopping or moving.

This form supported and held space for those present in the room who had left their countries to find a new home in the United States, for example, Luay Sami from Iraq and Daniel Valdez from Mexico. It allowed others of us in the room born in this country to feel connected in a new way to those who were not.

Satyam Barakoti, CCC Advancements Director, who invited me to offer an InterPlay activity for this event explained her reasons for the invitation: “I wanted to move the energy from the sadness of the movie, move people from a place of being stuck—hopeless to a different place. I think by giving permission to walk, run, walk alone or walk with someone, we also characterized various journeys that immigrants take.”

During the ten minutes of “Walking, Stopping, Running,” that we did between the ELLIS film and the panel discussion on the topic of immigration, “I added the “lean.” The “lean” is an opportunity if participants are willing to move into contact with one another and to feel the support through a physical connection. I observed some people choosing to stop and connect while some held hands and walked or ran around the room together.

“The InterPlay experience was the perfect connector between the power of the film and the richness of the discussion,” McKenzie Wren texted me.  “It helped us to feel in our bodies what we had just witnessed on the screen. It was simple and yet profound.”

After our InterPlay experience, the audience settled down for a panel discussion moderated by an immigration lawyer Meighan Vargas with Ted Terry, the Clarkston Mayor  (who I had “leaned” with not knowing he was the Mayor!); Daniel Valdez, Regional Manager of Welcoming America, and Luay Sami, CCC Events and Facilities Manager. I learned more about the immigration experience while I sat in the CCC heard for the first time Clarkston described as the “Ellis Island to the South.”

CLARKSTON, GEORGIA, "ELLIS ISLAND of the SOUTH." (Left to right), Ted Terry, Clarkston's Mayor, Daniel Valdez of Welcoming America, and Luay Sami of the CCC, answer questions moderated by Meighan Vargas, immigration lawyer. "Ellis Island of the South" is a fitting description for one of the most diverse cities in the United States.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thank you to Satyam Barakoti for inviting me to lead InterPlay at this event. It felt like InterPlay, an improvisational system used as a tool for building community and social change, was a great fit. McKenzie Wren thank you for such a great introduction to me and to InterPlay. As always, I'm so appreciative to Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founders of InterPlay. And, finally, gratitude to all of those people who shared their experiences as new arrivals to the United States.


  1. Sounds like "Walk, Stop, Run" was the perfect form to use here. Glad to hear a rich experience was created for all.

    1. Jennifer I am so glad that InterPlay Atlanta can offer these opportunities to our various metro-Atlanta communities.

  2. This is powerful stuff. Good work! Lynn

    1. Thank you Lynn! Please join us at Clarkston Community Center on a Monday for Creative Communication class. Your presence would be so welcome an such a wonderful addition.